On Why I Might Ignore Your Writing Advice

plot-structure
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I love writing. And I love learning about writing. I love reading blog posts and quotes on Pinterest about writing. There is so much advice out there: how to write interesting characters, how to come up with a plot, how to create the ultimate antagonist…

It can be super helpful.

And it can also be overwhelming.

To explain, let me backtrack a little. I’m currently working on the second draft of my WIP, Devil May Care. It’s a YA sort-of-paranormal, kind-of-romance sort of thing. See? I’m so good at describing it.

The first draft was entirely free-form, written without an outline or the vaguest idea of what was going to happen next. And while I loved the experience, when I sat down to write draft two, I knew that I needed to have some sort of roadmap.

For the first 60-ish pages, I wasn’t overly concerned with definite plot structure. I knew what scenes from draft #1 I wanted to use, what new elements I needed to pull in, and that was enough. I wasn’t flying by the seat of my pants, but my plane was built of fairly shitty cardboard. It was enough to get me going, though, so I ran with it.

And then the exposition had been expositioned (wow, so not a word) and I knew I was starting to get into the meat of the story, which was great, because meat is good, but it also sucked, because my roadmap had ended. One minute, I’m following my self-made GPS’s commands, the next, I’m stranded in the middle of no where with only a bottle of water, a bag of stale Cheetos, and the knowledge that I really need to decide on a concrete plot for this monstrosity.

So I turned to the internet. A quick Google search later, I’m reading all about plot structure, how to create a plot, the parts of a plot–

And none of it is helping. In fact, an hour of skimming writing advice blogs and Pinterest infographics has convinced me that I have absolutely no hope of ever turning Devil May Care into a workable novel.

It sucked. A lot.

See, I’ve always had this idea that if I have a good premise and characters I like and a vague idea of what I want my book to say, there will also be a plot. If I think about the elements of the book I have to work with, I will eventually discover a plot. Like my WIP is a math problem and I just need to find the right formula and solve for “plot.” Like I can dump everything I created in draft one into a sifter and if I shake it enough, a nugget of plot gold will surface.

But everyone on the internet has different ideas, and they ask a lot of questions: What does your character want? What is your conflict? What is in the way of what she wants? What is The Lie Your Protagonist Believes? What is your point A and how do you get to point B? Who is your antagonist?

They’re good questions, and I know they shouldn’t be hard to answer, but they tripped me up. Not because I couldn’t think of an answer, but because I could think of too many answers. Or the answer I thought of didn’t feel “plotty” enough.

I couldn’t get my idea of the novel to fit into their molds, and it left me feeling like I’d gotten the answer wrong on a test.

Devil May Care has romance in it, but I’ve never felt like it was the central plot. On it’s most basic level, DMC is just a girl (who is a lot like me) trying to figure out who the hell she is in a society that is screaming at her to sit down, shut up, and be the person they have told her she already is. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a coming of age novel, or a bildungsroman. It’s more than that, but I’m not exactly sure how.

All I know is that the internet (well, the advice I was reading) was forcing me into a box that felt way too small for the book I wanted to write. I ended up feeling like I was doing something wrong because I didn’t have a “good” answer to their questions. I stopped writing for a weekend, overcome with doubts and anger.

But part of me realized that my idea of “good” answers were just the answers that other people would give, the answers that other books would respond with. But I don’t want to write a book that already exists, I want to write my novel.

All of this was about a week ago. Since then, I’ve actually sat down, focused on my book, and formed a plot that I like. It doesn’t exactly match the formulas the internet wanted me to use, and I’m sure I’ll change it as I go along, but I’ve got my roadmap back. And I like where it’s leading me.

I still read writing advice online. I follow a few writing advice blogs and some Pinterest boards. Most of the time, they help me focus on what I need to accomplish with my writing.

But I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to ignore their advice. Sometimes, that is the best thing you can do.


Have any of you experienced this? Do you read writing advice? How do you deal with it when someone tells you you’re doing something “wrong”?

 

Falling into a Rhythm

At the end of December, I started writing the second draft of my WIP, a YA paranormal-ish novel called Devil May Care. I currently have 20,349 words, and I actually like what I’ve written.

To give you a timeline of this project, I had just finished the first draft when I started this blog in April 2014. I decided to let it sit for a month, and then that month became, like, eight months. School was in the way, and then summer was in the way, and then school came back and there was always something standing between me and free time.

A lot of it was homework. A lot of it was self-doubt. A lot of it was just being tired and stressed and not wanting to put another project on my plate.

But in December, I started writing again, and miraculously, I’ve managed to keep writing, even when second semester started and hit me in the face like a freight train. (I hate January…)

Last night, I wrote 3,348 words, the most I’ve written in one sitting since I started draft #2. It took about three and a half hours, and I’m paying for it today, because I stayed up until midnight to write it, and my body really wanted sleep.

Just over three thousand words is not a lot, but actually it is. In the grand scheme of things, it is a tiny scrap of a story that I will probably rewrite five more times before I like it. However, it is a sign that I’m still writing, and that I’m writing more. I’m not just adding a paragraph a week. I’m adding entire chapters, chunks of plot.

I’m falling into a rhythm. I can tell people that I’m a writer because I’m actually writing.

My grades are still great. My life has not become more hectic. Writing, just like it used to before I convinced myself it was too stressful, is a wonderfully therapeutic exercise. I feel like myself again.

I’m just putting this out there because I doubt I’m unique. Everyone has life get in the way of living. But I woke up this morning feeling tired but content, and wanting to write more. I’m caught up in a great story–and it’s not the one I’m reading, it’s the one I’m writing.

In fencing, falling into a rhythm is bad. It’s predictable. You want to change it up, catch your opponent off guard.

But with writing, rhythm is exactly what I need. Routine. I can’t let writing be a once-a-month occurrence. I have to remind myself that I’d rather write than watch TV. That I’d rather write than stare for hours at Buzzfeed. I need to keep writing, to stay in this rhythm.

One thing that has definitely helped is that I’ve started an Excel spreadsheet keeping track of how many words I write a day. My average is around 1,000 words. (I don’t write every day, so I only take into consideration days I actually sit down and add to DMC.) I always have the spreadsheet open in my laptop as a reminder to write. It also gives me a confidence boost when–like last night–I realize that I’ve written a substantial chunk of words.

I know one night of writing doesn’t mean my novel is done, but it’s enough of a confidence boost for me to believe it might get there eventually.